Review: The Painted Dragon by Katherine Woodfine


Publication Date: 09.02.2017
ISBN: 9781405282895
Number of Pages: 333

She knew she ought to be grateful to have work at all, never mind a job somewhere as marvellous as Sinclair’s, but after everything that had happened to her over the past few months, it was difficult to go back to simply selling hats.
But it wasn’t as though she had any other options. Sophie was all alone in the world, and she had to work to support herself. She might sometimes have fanciful thoughts about becoming a professional detective, but she knew they were just that – fancies.

The Painted Dragon – Katherine Woodfine PP23 – 24. 

Tea cakes and trickery! We’re back at Sinclair’s department store as Mr Sinclair opens his doors for an art exhibition the likes of which the public has never seen before. There is always something to see at Sinclair’s. Except, as readers of Woodfine’s previous novels will tell you, hosting an exhibition at Sinclair’s is like retiring to Midsomer. You’ve got to expect something to go wrong…

Which suits Sophie and Lil. With two mysteries under their hats the pair are gaining a reputation as the people to go to when there is a crime to be solved.

The third book shows less of Sophie than the first two, but every character Woodfine creates is interesting. This time we meet Leo, a young artist underestimated by society because of her disability. The story opens when Leo is pushed on to the train tracks by an unknown man. Then we go back in time to see Leo start as a student of The Spencer Institute – an art school based on The Slade.

The familiar characters are not forgotten, nor do their appearances feel like cameos. Woodfine’s characters develop over the series as well as across the individual stories.  In The Painted Dragon, I felt we particularly saw changes in Billy. Now a clerk in Mr Sinclair’s office, Billy has a job in which he can engage his mind and is no longer inclined to hide in a corner with a comic. Not during office hours. It is these developments that make Woodfine’s characters as compelling as real people.

Edwardian London is not an easy place for everyone. In Book 2 we got a sense of life for immigrant families in Chinatown. This time, the Suffragettes are active and we see how society responds to Leo’s disability. This is the key thing – it is not the disability itself which hinders Leo but the way in which other people respond. Woodfine also creates a contrast between upper and lower class lives, and is skilled at finding situations in which people from different classes might come together.

Sophie’s dealings with The Baron – the master criminal with a penchant for collectable objects – run across the series. This reminds me of ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’. The wider plot means the series is best read in order of publication. A lesser author would have difficulty bringing the Baron into every story without the individual mysteries becoming predictable. Woodfine keeps us guessing, and keeps us interested with her widened cast and the wider plot of the series.

A treat comparable to a trip to Sinclair’s. This may be a shop we have visited before, but every department holds new wonders.

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